I’ve been asked for my opinion about communal work-space.
Here are some thoughts on starting a hackspace and what a space needs.
Infrastructure vs. People and Projects
I think like any project one needs to start with the audience. Then walk the cat backward to figure out tool and other requirements. And the audience in this case are people with their process and a collection of projects. Otherwise we get the “Field of Dreams” problem: “Build it and they [sic] will come”.
I think these sorts of movements are very organic and it’s difficult to engineer a community (perhaps even slightly arrogant to think its engineerable). Perhaps facilitation is more fair game. Probably the most important thing is to find a way to discover and understand who the audience is and what their needs are for their projects (business 101 stuff). If there already is an audience (or movement), then you can come up with infrastructure for the projects/process. Otherwise the community activity ends up not being centered around the infrastructure that was created.
I was talking to Mitch Altman and he suggested the methodology of visualizing the community that you want to be a part of. Then attracting people. Another point is to have a regular meeting. This came forward in the video by Mitch at a TEDx.
Space is like any resource but it might be a constant for a makerspace. That’s because it has the word “space” in its name.
I think a community can benefit from a good space in a few ways:
Social: People can learn about each others projects. Help and teach each other. People can become inspired to start new projects and come up with new ideas. People can discover problems to solve. This social component is a large part of many people’s process. For me this is an important element of problem solving and creativity. ModLab is an example of the social benefit I’m talking about. Also the Open Workshops as they are a great way transferring skill around.
WorkSpace: This can augment any individuals own workspace or lab. It can cut logistics. For instance I used to order some of my parts for projects to ArtEngine.
The social and workspace side don’t have to be physically the same. But co-location of the two functions is good because there can be cross pollination between the two functions.
It helps if pace has good continuity (availability), fairness and access.
I don’t just mean that doors should be open to anybody. I mean that the schedule, happenings and projects can be discover-able. A community is more likely to sustain if there is an ongoing feed of new and varied people. This will feed the regular core of participants and reduce clique formation. A clear Web site showing the dates and times of things. A Web of blogs and other Webby things.
I personally am interested in having the following in a space:
Basic Supplies: Why make trips to the store for making tape, solder or a resistor? There could be some stationary too.
Materials: Hardboard, acrylic and stuff.
Stackable Plastic Bins: These are great to store peoples projects.
Laser: They’re really cool!
CNC Machine: This is such a no-brainer. They are not very expensive compared to a laser and are very useful.
Awareness of other offerings in the community and what their strengths and shortcomings are. This helps the space to work with other offerings and also to differentiate properly.
I think it’s a good idea if a community makerspace is funded by its users. Not every ecosystem can sustain since it depends on the market for space and the economics of the audience projects.
I like the Sasktatoon hackerspace example for this. They managed to do it without any major outside stakeholders. their space is very nice and there are no people who “control” it. A natural do-ocracy has emerged. They made their own CNC machine and managed to have a space that really meets the requirements of all the people. CNC machines are really underrated by the way. Mine gets nearly as much time as my laser. In fact I’ve been shopping for a new spindle because mine is wearing out! (Brushless water-cooled should be a little more industrial).
If there is a stakeholder that provides a lot of funding then sometimes other agendas can mess things up and clique formation can harm a community. Could you imagine the limitations of a community if there is someone in a position to judge a project or people as to their fitness to use the space or other resources?
Pricing models and pricing levels figured out communally (not by a core of people and not dictated).
I’m betting at some point municipalities will figure out that makerspaces are as important as libraries, swimming pools and rooms where kids can bounce balls around. They may be able to provide some of the requirement without biasing the purpose (and who gets the most premium access to and who gets left out) of a space.
But every different funding stakeholder will bias the situation in some way. Either with rules, conditions or even inequitable access to the resources. I think with a funded project people get all excited about infrastructure because that’s what the funding is used for. But it’s important to cater to the actual audience and not just the fund manager and their friends.
There is a set of known design patterns for hackspaces.
Here’s an example of some space.
I think a city needs multiple spaces. Just like we need Macs, Windows, Androids and so forth. Without that sort of variety the DNA pool gets too sparse and things don’t progress as fast.